Managing Transitions - Grand Canyon Hike 2010
As the decades go by, the accumulated weight of a lifetime's decisions start to make themselves felt. I for one feel pretty good about most of the major decisions I've made. I'm living in a place I really like, and doing a lot of things I enjoy. One lesson from all this is you can get pretty comfortable living inside the bubble you've created... almost to the point where life outside that bubble can feel pretty uncomfortable. Moving outside the bubble, and then from one environment to the next, is what I mean by "transitions" in the title. I think it is important that we challenge that bubble now and then, if for no other reason than to reinforce why we inhabit it in the first place.
Brother Gerry and I planned a hike in the Grand Canyon for late fall of 2010. The trip almost sputtered out before it started. I had previously planned a Grand Canyon hike for 2009 that was to have taken me up to the Haunted Canyon for 2 nights. Due to some exceptionally hot weather for early May of that year, I cut the hike short after 2 nights and hiked all the way out from the Cottonwood Campground in one day (about 16 miles.) The 2010 hike was to be a repeat performance of the 2009, and I submitted my permit application accordingly. Each of the three potential itineraries I requested called for a night at Bright Angel Campground a night before and after the Haunted Canyon stay.
When the all important letter from the park service arrived, it seemed ominously thin. The letter inside said my permit had been denied! Unheard of. I always submit my request by fax just after midnight on the first eligible day, and have been successful every time in getting my first choice. I immediately called the ranger at the Back Country Office and asked for an explanation. He said that the first day for which permits are accepted is not, in fact, the day I thought it was, but 2 weeks prior to that day. And that the permits are not granted first-come first-served, but are rather drawn at random. Apparently my draw was far enough down the list that all the spaces at Bright Angel were taken by that time.
I asked the ranger to look at his schedule in order to design an alternative hike, since all our travel plans had been made. He very kindly worked with me to come up with workable options, while I typed away at a permit application on my computer. When we finished on the phone, I had completed a new application that had three viable hikes ranked in the order I wanted them, which was faxed to the Back Country Office within 5 minutes of hanging up.
After about 10 days, a fatter envelope arrived from the park service with a better result... a permit for a great hike. It was to be on the east side of the park, which I had never visited before. If we pushed it, we could visit the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers on this trip, a goal I'd made for myself some years before.
Both Gerry and I had been physically conditioning ourselves for the hike for some time, and we continued up until about a week before we were to leave for the hike. We each hiked miles each day with large loads of sand in our packs to make sure our packs, boots, and bodies were up to the task of hiking the canyon. I decided to use a different philosophy for food for this trip. I'd picked up a book called "Backpack Gourmet," which suggested recipes and gave instructions for dehydrating and packaging the food.
I cooked a couple of the author's recipes and liked them. Next I cooked and dehydrated a batch, then rehydrated and cooked it at home, and it was still good. Gerry tried some, and he said it tasted good to him also. So I cooked up double batches each of spaghetti and chili, dehydrated and packaged them up, and set them aside for the hike. I also made a batch of backpacker-grade granola for the hike. Normal granola in our household contains a cup each of oil and honey for each gallon of dry ingredients. Backpacker grade has a cup and a half of each, making it sweeter and slicker for an oiled trip down the digestive track.
I decided on Jell-O brand pudding for 4 of the 5 supper desserts. I searched the food aisles for something special for one dessert, and found it in a pouch of blueberry muffin mix that required only water to be added. I also packed enough extra powdered milk and powdered sugar so I could whip up some frosting for it. The technique for baking the mix involved placing a trivet between two nesting pots, and filling the intervening space with water. The inner pot has the muffin mix in it, and the space between the two pots is filled with water. The lid is put over both pots, and a sheet of aluminum foil is folded over the whole thing. The foil is then made as air-tight as possible using a long twist-tie. When this contraption is put on the stove, the water between the two pots is brought to a boil, and held to a simmer for the allotted time, effectively turning it into an oven.
Lunch consisted of hardtack crackers, cheese, peanut butter, and raisin sandwiches. This is the Isle Royale backcountry lunch which I'd come to trust and like. All this food was gathered together and placed in my bear-proof canisters the day before the trip. It, along with my backpack, all the backpacking gear I'd need, plus traveling supplies for the days before and after the actual hike were jammed into my suitcase. I'm glad I bought a quality expandable suitcase with good zippers, because it barely closed, and I feared an explosion if one of the zippers gave.
The bus schedule in our part of the country is kind of screwy. The closest bus stop to our home is 16 miles away in Baraga, and the bus leaves at 12:40 AM. Rather than having Alice drive me to the bus stop and lose hours of sleep on a work night, I reserved a local taxi for the trip. As usual they were right on time. I left my key ring on the table, wheeled my luggage out the door, and the adventure started.
I ride the bus to Lansing rather than drive primarily because of my environmental beliefs. Rather than supporting the oil companies by consuming 75 gallons of gas, I buy a bus ticket and support mass transit in my state and community. Since the bus is making the trip anyway, I'm only consuming as much fuel as it takes to get my few hundred pounds down the road, rather than my 5,000# truck. Besides the environmental reason, I ride the bus because it is cheaper than buying gas.
I was fortunate to be able to sleep quite a bit of the night on the bus. Finding just the right position is challenging, and on some trips it is a losing battle. This trip it worked out well, and before I knew it, the Soo was out the window. I brought the ipod along and some good books to read, so the time went by quickly. We arrived in Lansing about 3:00, right on schedule. Brother Ger was there to meet me, and we worked together to get my luggage off the bus and into his car. The bus driver had been kind enough to call the Michigan Flyer driver in East Lansing to tell them we were going to try to make the 3:20 bus from East Lansing to the Detroit airport. We zoomed over to East Lansing and pulled up to the Marriot Hotel where the bus was waiting. We unloaded our luggage and Ger went to put the car away. I checked in with the driver and got our luggage loaded. The place to park the car is on the highest level of the parking deck, so Ger had to go around and around to get up there, and then climb down the stairs. The driver was honking his horn to leave when Ger emerged from the deck, and we jumped on the bus.
I had booked a hotel room near the Detroit airport since our flight was to leave early the next morning. The bus took us to the airport, and a shuttle arrived shortly after that to take us to the hotel. There we were able to get our gear sorted out for the flight, grab a quick supper, and crash. This hotel seemed like the focal point for the first difficult transition this trip had to offer. These airport hotels are often pretty well-used affairs. The clerks are used to a constantly shifting series of 1 night customers. They know all the stories and are professional to the point of indifference. The whole place is clean, but really well used. The people at the hotel restaurant had to be reminded 2 times that we hadn't had our order taken, and never offered apologies of any sort. The food was as indifferent as the waitresses. I was probably tired from all the traveling, but I got into a kind of funk about that place.
The next morning the alarm went off, and we were up and out the door for the longest day of our trip. The shuttle took us back to the airport and we checked in for the flight. My bag was 16# overweight, tacking on an additional $90 to my ticket. I didn't let it bother me since Alice's and my philosophy is when we're on vacation, we don't think about money. That can all get sorted out later.
Once on the plane, we had a smooth trip to Las Vegas. We grabbed our gear and headed for the shuttle to the car rental place. I never care much for the experience of renting a car, and this time was no exception. The clerks always try to add rip-off options to your contract, like extra insurance and bringing the car back with the fuel tank empty. We decided to include Ger on the contract as a driver, and the clerk failed to tell me this would cost us an extra $11/day; nearly doubling the cost of the rental. I just happened to notice it when I signed the contract, but was so disgusted by her and her attitude that I just wanted to get out of there, so I signed. We got the car and headed out to do battle with the streets of Las Vegas. Before we left, I asked a different clerk if the bridge over the Hoover Dam was completed and accepting traffic, and she said yes. So we decided to go that way, rather than through Laughlin which is a bit longer but quicker than the route across the dam. The GPS was started and we began the road trip portion of our journey.
Ger was running the GPS and I piloted the car. We got about 3 blocks before a miscommunication between us caused me to miss my entrance onto highway 215. We managed to get turned around and onto the right track with some expenditure of adrenalin. After that it was smooth sailing until Hoover Dam. I've been interested for years in the design and construction of the modern bridge that bypasses the congested two-lane road on the dam. I was excited to finally get a close look at it, and to be able to drive across it. As we got closer to the bridge, something seemed wrong.
Traffic was backed up just like it has been since 9/11. We were routed the same old way toward the dam, and were looked over by security agents before we were allowed to cross the dam. Once through the checkpoint, we were able to look up at the graceful massive arch of this bridge, and also had to maintain the slow speed limit brought on, I'm sure, by the vast numbers of tourists. Once past the dam complex and back onto the highway, I had to admit I felt angry and betrayed by the flippant affirmation of the bridge's status by the folks at the car rental company. As we talked it over, though, we agreed the experience was an interesting one, and that we really didn't lose all that much time.
We ground out the remaining miles and arrived at the park toll booths in the afternoon. Ger had wisely purchased the senior citizen $10 lifetime National Park Pass when he turned 62. Instead of the normal $25 entrance fee, we breezed through for free. Then it was on to the Bright Angel Lodge, where we were to check into our rooms.
Finding a place to park in that neighborhood borders on the impossible. We passed the lodge and went in a circle, finally parking semi-legally down the hill from the lodge, and walked up the hillside and into the lobby. Check-in was simple, and the package I had sent from home containing my stove and fuel bottles was quickly retrieved. I asked the desk clerk about parking, and he suggested an area we might try. Amazing as it still seems today, we found a parking spot a building away from ours, unloaded our gear, and started the process of organizing and packing for the next day's start.
Once we had things pretty well under control, we walked to the Maswik and had some supper, and then called it an early night. We planned to get up early the next morning so we could be on the trail as close to sunrise as possible. I was a bit worried about a cold I'd been fighting for a few days. It seemed I might escape it for the trip, but noticed a sore throat before falling asleep.
We were both up around 4:30 AM, and were quickly dressed for the trail. I walked to the front desk and checked us out while Ger took a load out to the car and warmed it up. When I arrived with my gear, we were off. I'd never been to Lipan Point before, which is the trailhead for the Tanner. It is a long drive just to get to the Grandview Lookout where we'd be ending our hike in 6 days, and probably 10 miles beyond to get to Lipan. One of the many nice things about having Ger along is he could look at a map while we drove on through the night. We finally saw the sign on the highway, and drove up to the parking area. It was still quite dark, but we could make out a faint beginning of daylight in the eastern sky.
We saw no signs for the trailhead, and spent some time walking around before we located it. We took our own picture at the trailhead, and with our headlamps under our hiking hats, started down the Tanner toward the Colorado River a bit after 6:00.
Hiking before daybreak in the canyon provides cool and shady conditions, thus saving water. We each had 4 liters, which was not enough, in my estimation, for us to camp anywhere except at the Colorado River at Tanner Beach; the only reliable water source for that day. We took our time getting acclimated to our packs, boots, and the terrain. It quickly became obvious that there had been a major rainstorm shortly before our hike.
The Tanner Trail has a reputation as a rough trail, but this went beyond rough. We each had a power bar and a half cup of granola for the trip. A few hours down the trail we found a shady spot to sit for our breakfast, and then continued on. As the day went along, it got warmer and warmer.
The Tanner is only about 7 miles long, and at 2 miles per hour, should have taken us less than 4 hours to get to the river. As reality struck and we realized it would take us much longer, we both instinctively started rationing our water. The last thing I'd ever want to do is run out of water in such hot country. I found myself with a very dry mouth and nearly 3 liters of water gone. My technique for the last couple of hours of hiking was to use my bite tube to get a small mouthful of water and swish it around in my dry mouth as long as I could stand to. When you are thirsty, it is hard to swish much, because the water seems to escape down your throat before you are ready for it to. Down down we went. Finally we crossed the Tanner Creek bed, and saw evidence of recent water activity, but no water.
You can be close to the river for a long time before you finally get there. We saw some evidence of other campers, and then the beautiful river. A man was standing nearby with a camera, so I walked up and struck up a conversation. He told us he had come down just the day after the big rain, and that the Colorado was running red then. He said their water bag, which he used to allow the sediment to settle before filtering, was about 1/4 filled with sludge by the time it had settled.
We quickly got some water in our 10 liter pocket shower, and then got lunch out. We were both really beat. It is often this way the first day of hiking when you are finding your sea-legs. It was now about 2:00 and both agreed we should have stopped for lunch earlier in the hike. After lunch we set up camp and just kind of hung out until supper time. By this time of the day, I was at the tail end of my second transition this trip; from the world of travel to the world of backpacking. And it wasn't going well. I was giving some serious consideration to hiking out and being done with the whole thing. As I thought through it, I realized it was just a rough spot after a long day of hiking, and I soon got over it.
After supper was over and cleaned up, it was getting dark rapidly. One disadvantage of hiking this time of year is the days are short. By 6:30 it is too dark to walk around without a headlamp. I had hoped to scope out the Beamer Trail for the next morning's hike, but there wasn't time.
We set our alarms for 5:00 and were in our tents shortly after 7:00. I say "tents," except that I didn't pack mine. I decided to try my much lighter and more compact bivy for this trip. It is essentially a large gore-tex sleeping bag that you put your sleeping pad and bag inside. There are special air baffles inside the bivy so you can close it up completely and still breathe quite comfortably. They are designed to keep you dry in a rainstorm.
My first night of sleeping out often is not restful, and this night was no exception. I found myself sort of half awake most of the night, and also tossing quite a bit to find some position where I wouldn't cause some limb or another to lose circulation. I was ready for the day when the alarm went off.
Ger is amazing at getting ready in the morning. As I'm getting my gear organized for the hike, I'll glance over at his area and see him completing the final details on his backpack. We packed 1/2 cup of granola in some small nalgene bottles the night before, and put power bars near the top of the food canisters. This was so they'd be handy in the morning. We each grabbed our granola and power bar for that day's hike. I almost never eat breakfast in camp. I'd rather get up and get things put away, and hike for a while before I eat breakfast. The power bar went into a pocket for whenever I felt like eating it.
We had some trouble finding the trailhead for the Beamer because the Tanner Trail came out in the Tanner Creek wash, and the tracks of previous hikers were going all over the place. We looked around for quite a while before we found something likely that was going the direction we were going. It was dark enough that we had our headlamps on too. The park service really seems to skimp on signage at this end of the park. The Beamer makes a left turn shortly after the trailhead, and we both missed it! We hiked about half of the 4 1/2 miles towards the Little Colorado on an alternative trail that took us up into the canyons and away from the river. It was a nice hike, but we spent a lot of time up there that we could have spent just hiking along the relatively level Beamer.
We finally intersected the real Beamer trail and figured out where we went wrong. The hiking got easier and we were in closer proximity to the Colorado. That was one of my favorite parts of this hike. On the western end of the park, you rarely get much time hiking along the river. It is usually a lot of up and over hiking, then dipping down to a glance at the river, then up and over some more. On the Beamer there were miles of river hiking.
Near the end of this stretch of sandy beach hiking, we took a short break in a shady spot next to a red rock wall. I had my map out and was looking things over when some interesting people hiked up to us. The female was probably my age (58) and did not have hiking clothing on. She had what seemed to be a pretty small backpack, and for footwear, she had flip flops. Not the tough hiking ones either, but rather what seemed like a dime store variety. They stopped to talk. I figured they'd gotten off a raft trip and were day-hiking. No, they'd hiked all the way to the Little Colorado, and were on their way back to the Tanner. The man I assumed was her husband was dressed similarly. His outstanding feature of was he was missing his right arm!
We talked quite a while with them and learned they'd done this hike many times in the past. The woman seemed to be the expert and appeared to be a pretty no-nonsense type of person. I'm guessing there was nothing extra in her pack, and that the hike held few surprises for her. And if something came up she was not prepared for, that she'd improvise her way out of it. They talked to us for probably 10 minutes before they moved along, and I felt like I would have liked to have hiked with them to learn some of their stories. They clearly had a different approach to hiking than ours, and their approach seemed to work very well for them.
After they continued on their way, we got ourselves going and in a short hike were at the steeper part of the Beamer. I started up the first embankment that was to take us back and around a creek bed when Ger suggested we take another look at the map. It indicated that we would have a lot of this up and down over rock faces for the next 5 miles or so until just about where the Little Colorado joins the Colorado. After a short discussion, we decided to make this the easternmost portion of our hike, and instead of pushing through to the confluence, we'd turn back west. We kept our eyes open for a suitable campsite and in an hour or two came across one. The neat thing about this stretch of the trail is that water is no issue, since the Colorado is right there. This is quite different from other sections of the park where you have to camp whenever the trail brings you down to the river.
We got our gear organized, got a bag of water from the river and started filtering. I prefer to fill all our hiking water bottles plus the big 3 liter Nalgene bag with filtered water. That way we'll often have enough water for supper and the start of the next day's hike. We were fortunate to find a large flat rock that we propped up on 3 other rocks, which made an excellent table for meal preparation. Probably the number two feature of a good campsite in the backcountry of the canyon (after shade) is a good horizontal surface. Another thing we look for is a tree or bush with bare branches for hanging things to dry after they're rinsed out.
Ger got his tent up while I scouted out a flat spot for my bivy. I still wasn't too sure about the wisdom of using the bivy in place of a tent, but I surely did appreciate the extra space in my pack and the 3 or so pounds of weight I wasn't carrying. I liked to find a flat rock to place next to the bivy so I had a place to put my flashlight, glasses, water bottle, handkerchief, and other nighttime necessities. In the tent there are pouches sewn into the walls for such things. I liked a rock because it kept things together and up off the dirt.
The very short day was starting to catch up with us again. A glance at the height of the sun relative to the canyon walls told us we'd better get supper going. Since this was only the second night, we didn't have our routine perfected yet, but we were getting close. While I spread things out and started the stove, Ger got the next day's granola and power bars squared away. Supper was very good again, and both our appetites had improved. It takes a while to get into the groove of hiking, and we were starting to find that groove. Unlike the first night, I was having no thought at all about cutting the hike short.
During supper that night I had my Sierra cup full of food in one hand while I was rifling through my pack for something or the other, when something slipped and I spilled some of my food. An expletive escaped my lips. Ger thought it might be good if he walked away for a few minutes, but I told him I was fine. It is funny how silly little things can get blown out of proportion.
That night I did a little better in the bivy. There is always a transition when sleeping on the ground, and I was working through that as well as the relative confinement of the bivy. We woke up around 5:00 or so feeling pretty chipper. This day's plan was to retrace our steps back to Tanner Creek, and then continue to the campsite at Escalante Creek. We got a good early start and had our headlamps on for the beginning of the hike. We both did the usual sweep of the campsite before we left to make sure nothing got left behind. Neither of us found anything. For some reason, I went back to the kitchen area and discovered the scrubber for the water filter under some leaves. The water filter will stop working if it is not cleaned with this scrubber regularly. When I got home from the hike, I cut a small strip of the same scrubber material and put it in with the filter, so if one of them got lost in the future I'd have a spare.
The Beamer Trail was much easier the way we went this time. It dawned on both of us about the same time that we had taken the long way around when we came out this way the day before. We found ourselves back at Tanner Creek before 8:00. I was amazed to see several groups of campers still asleep as we hiked through. They were wasting the best hiking of the day, in my opinion.
The hike along the river west of Tanner was kind of strange. In places the foliage was quite lush. We were a couple of hours into the day's hike and pushing through this thick stuff when we encountered possibly one of the most amazing sights of the trip. We came around a corner, and tucked slightly into the foliage just off the trail, a guy was sitting on a portapotty taking a dump. I stopped in my tracks and looked at the guy with my mouth open. He greeted us as though this was nothing unusual. He said, "Come on along, it's ok. I'm with the rafting party that's camped down the trail."
For some reason, I didn't feel much like stopping to chat with this fellow, and I'm sure he was grateful for the limited privacy he got after we left. Shortly after we left him, we started encountering others of this party. It turned out to be a pretty big group. We struck up a conversation with a woman that was just organizing her camping gear. I noticed she had black splotches on her face, and also noticed she seemed pretty unhappy. I did learn from her that this was not an outfitted group, but a private group. She said the leader of the expedition had been applying for this trip since 1994, 16 years!
We kept walking along the trail and came into the middle of their campsite. A very friendly guy was sitting in a camp chair with his leg propped up, and he told us the story of him stepping wrong just a few days out and badly spraining his ankle. I asked him if it would help if I took a look at it since I'm a first responder, and he told us there were nurses along on the trip, and that he was doing fine. He showed us the crutch someone had fabricated for him. It was one very clever piece of engineering. It was made from two trekking poles, a rubber mallet, and lots of duct tape. I wish I'd have gotten a picture of it.
We talked to this guy for a while, and looked around at their setup. They had a large folding table for food prep, and a woman was getting breakfast ready for the group. These guys even had a portable sink! Clearly rafting campers have a different set of gear than backpackers do.
We said goodbye to the one friendly guy and headed on down our trail. As soon as we were out of earshot, I asked Ger if he got the same vibes from this group as I did. He agreed that except for the guy that sprained his ankle, everyone seemed pretty unhappy. What a bummer it must have been to wait so long for the permit, and then find yourself in an irresolvable toxic social situation.
The trail took us up and away from the river again. The views up there were pretty spectacular and at one place, we saw a chunk of red rock that had obviously been part of a watercourse at one time. To have this multi-ton rock just sitting in the middle of a field of similar sized boulders so far from any possibility of water just blew my mind. The ancient and patient characteristics of this amazing place kept popping out at us in unexpected places.
Back home before the hike, I had found an account a fellow had written about a similar hike in the canyon. He had taken and labeled GPS waypoints along the Escalante Route. I'd downloaded them into my GPS before leaving for the hike, and as we were making our way west along the trail, we were glad I had. The trail was fairly obvious until we encountered the Escalante Creek bed. We reached a point where the trail just seemed to vanish down a cliff. We looked for cairns, but found nothing that looked enough like a trail for us to follow. So I consulted the GPS, and sure enough, the hint the author gave got us back on the right path. There were at least 2 more places along this creek bed where we were grateful for the person's hints. One of them was a dry waterfall we needed to climb down. Once he told us what to look for, the path was obvious and not too difficult. If I do another hike in this part of the park, I'll make an effort to find and download more routes like that one.
The trail down the creek bed soon brought us to the camping area at Escalante Creek. We immediately encountered some people and saw they were part of a different rafting trip, who were scouting for a place to camp. As they looked things over, they decided "our" beach was too small for them, so they untied and went down the river. Watching these folks effortlessly drift away with far more gear and food than we had made us a little jealous of their means of locomotion.
We quickly located a nice campsite and got ourselves organized for another night. We were getting into the groove of getting water hauled and filtered, supper things taken out of backpacks and set up at the most likely kitchen area, and all without too many words being spoken. On our third night, we were turning into veteran hikers.
Some time before it was time to start supper, I decided that this evening we would have our special dessert with supper; a cake with frosting! I got everything set up with the double boiler and aluminum foil, and got the blueberry muffin mix in the "oven." Things went well for a while until the water between the two pans boiled over and put out the stove. I had to quickly move the pots, relight the stove, and get it boiling again. I had to do this several times, and eventually got the thing baked. I then set it aside to cool while I worked on the rest of the supper. Once we finished eating the main course, I got my little plastic bowl out, added the powdered sugar I'd brought, mixed up a small amount of powdered milk, and got out the olive oil I'd brought for this purpose. I also had a tiny French whisk. With the ingredients in the bowl, I slowly added the milk and whisked away. The frosting was ample with good consistency, and begging to be spread. I slathered it on the cooled cake, and we split a pretty nice fresh cake out there in the bottom of the canyon.
Nighttimes were getting a bit easier. I don't think I'll ever trade the tent in for a bivy, but I was making my peace with it. Finding a comfortable way to sleep always takes me a couple of the first nights of every trip. We were lucky to be sleeping mostly on sand this trip, which makes for comfortable beds. There is surely something special about waking up at night, looking up, and seeing a slit of stars bordered by beautiful dark canyon walls.
Next morning we began our shortest hiking day to Papago Creek. It was a typically beautiful hike which took us up into the canyons again. Just as we were descending into the wash that was to be our campsite for the coming night, we saw 4 guys climbing the Papago Wall. We were within hailing distance, so I asked them if they'd like a picture of all 4 of them on the wall. They said sure, so I took a couple and wrote the group leader's email address in my small notebook. I did send the pictures to him when I got home, and received a nice thank-you in reply.
We both liked Papago. We arrived early enough in the day so we could spend some extra time exploring. The feature I liked best was the dry waterfall that was contiguous with the beach. It was polished smooth by years of silty water flowing over its rock face. It was shady in there too, and I spent some time sitting with my back to the waterfall wall looking out at the wash, the Colorado River, and the sheer canyon wall beyond. It was a special place.
We had lunch, did some laundry and other gear chores, and with some extra time on our hands, I decided to make a batch of corn bread. Ger seemed dubious that he'd be able to eat more food, but I thought it might go well for a mid-afternoon snack. This recipe had lots of heavy stuff like wheat germ in it. I mixed up the batter, set up the double pot and covered the whole thing with our rapidly deteriorating piece of foil. After about 20 minutes of babysitting the stove, I declared it ready, and we each had 1/4 of it. It was good. I figured we'd be burying the rest of it, but we managed to eat it all by the time supper was over.
We were a little concerned about climbing the Papago Wall in the morning and the corresponding slide on the other side. We got up at the regular time and broke camp with well practiced efficiency. With headlamps lit, we headed up the wall. It was easy. The slide, however, required some care and attention. There was no set path through this place, although cairns had been placed in some tricky areas. These scree slopes often contain lots of loose rock, so we tried to keep sufficient distance between ourselves so the guy on top didn't kick a rock down on his partner. We took our time, and before we knew it, were at the bottom.
Our permit for the coming night allowed us to camp just about anywhere from Papago up to, but not including, the flats of Horseshoe Mesa. We knew there was a water source called Miner's Spring about a half hour below the mesa. Our plan for the day was to hike up to the spring and look for a suitable campsite nearby. The following day was to be our hike out, so we wanted to be as close as possible to the Grandview Trail that night. We kept close to the river for about half a kilometer until Red Canyon. This is the corridor for the New Hance Trail, and also the start of the Tonto. I've hiked the Tonto all the way from Hermit's Creek on the western end of the park to Horseshoe Mesa, but hadn't been east of the mesa until this trip. I was anxious to do a bit more of the Tonto, and see if it was possible to do all the rest of it on the eastern end. Once we hit the Tonto, the trail led up.
Once we were on the Tonto platform, the trail leveled out, and we had an enjoyable, if long, hike. I was a bit concerned about finding a place to camp that night. I knew water would be available at the spring, but wasn't sure about a flat place to pitch our gear. We crossed Hance Creek near the end of our day's hike, and decided to stop and top off our water pouches. It was a nice break in a lovely spot. There is something about a clear bubbling creek in the midst of all the arid splendor that makes you want to stop and fill your lungs. There was a great campsite here too, and we considered making this our night's destination. Eventually we to pushed on.
As we moved down the trail, the GPS and map seemed to indicate we were close to the spring, but we felt like we hiked quite a bit to get there. It was pretty steep going too. The spring is tucked in a nice spot in a largely vertical world. There was only one place flat enough for a couple of sleeping bags on some bare rock on the trail to Miner's Spring. We talked it over and decided to hike up to the abandoned mine close to the mesa and see if there was a place to camp. We left our packs down by the trail that led to the spring. When we got to the mine, someone was already there. We were afraid he was camping in this tiny spot, but it turned out he was just on his way down from the mesa to the spring for water and had decided to stop and rest a bit in the shade.
So Ger and I walked back down to our packs, and switched some stuff around. I took everything necessary for supper and Ger took the water filter and all the empty pouches. He went to filter water and I headed back up to the mine to set up camp and start cooking. At the spring, Ger had a nice conversation with the fellow we'd met earlier while they both got water. The plan was for me to have supper mostly ready for Ger when he carried his gear and all the water up. It worked out pretty well. There was just enough room for Ger's tent on the east side of the trail. Since it was threatening rain, I decided to share the mineshaft with the bats for the night in my bivy. It is designed to repel water if you shut yourself up in it completely, but I chose to let the canyon be my roof that night.
We were up early again the next morning, and underway before first light. There was a difficult section of the trail to traverse, and as usual, we had just enough daylight to manage it by the time we got there. We had another mile or so to hike to get up to the mesa, and from there the map showed the hike to the top was 2.3 miles. My experience is that I hike about 2 miles an hour on trails like the Bright Angel. At that pace, we should have been out in a couple of hours. The Grandview is steep and has a lot of switchbacks on it. We found ourselves going much slower than anticipated. The map gave us the elevation of the Grandview Trailhead, and the GPS displayed an approximation of the altitude on the trail. I remember distinctly thinking the GPS was stuck because the altitude did not seem to be going up properly. The morning was cool because we started early. We really didn't need to seek shade until we were near the top.
You can tell you're near the top by the way people are dressed as they're coming down. For the longest time there is no one, and then one or two hardy souls pass by. They don't yet understand the camaraderie of the trail, and often don't even say hello. The closer to the top we got, the less like hikers they looked. Two young women approached us near the top and asked us a question: "Are there mountain lions down there?" I joked an answer to her and then she asked a question that sort of scared me. "Which way is the river?" These women had no gear, no water, no hat for shade, and marginal footgear. The river was two days hiking behind us. One of them had what looked like an iPhone in her hand, and that was the extent of their gear. I tried my hardest to dissuade them from trying for the river, and am not sure what happened, except that they went down and we went up. Soon we were at the top, and asked a passerby to take our celebratory picture.
Our next hurdle was to get back to our rental car at the Tanner Trailhead, about 10 miles away. I had hoped we could talk a tourist into giving us a ride. Ger positioned himself in the shade with the gear, and I situated myself near the sidewalk that led to the overlook for the Grandview. As people were coming and going, I attempted to catch their eye and tell them my story. I got no eye contact. I'm sure I looked and smelled grubby, and I had clearly underestimated the compassion the world would have for someone that had just completed a 40 mile hike in the backcountry. I particularly remember one middle aged woman walking by me and staring straight ahead. She was not dressed for the outdoors, and why should she be? She had probably walked out of her air conditioned hotel room into an air conditioned car. Walking on the sidewalk in front of me was likely the closest to the wilderness she'd get all day. And why was this grubby hairy guy looking at me anyway? Another transition smacked me between the eyes. We were back in the real world, and regardless of our accomplishments of the past 6 days, it meant nothing, or perhaps less than nothing to most of the people that drove up here to look out over the edge. This is not a complaint, by the way. It is perfectly understandable in retrospect, because we were the interlopers in this world, and we'd have to adjust to it.
As I was pondering all this, I heard the voices of some young people. I looked toward the trailhead and saw a man with two young boys, all of which had backpacks. They too had just hiked out! I jumped up and walked over to them, and congratulated them on their accomplishment. I learned they had camped on the mesa last night and were heading home to Phoenix soon. I asked if they planned to drive toward Dessert View, which is near where our car was parked. Dad said no, they were heading to the Village to get some ice cream before they headed for home. Why was I asking, he wondered? I told him about our hike and that we needed a ride to pick up our rental car at Lipan Point. He did a quick mental calculation as he sized me up, and said, "Sure, we can give you a ride." Just like that. This man understood what we'd done, and immediately chose to include me in the car with his two young sons... a guy he'd met 2 minutes ago.
I got to know him a little bit on the 10 mile drive to the point. He was a telecommunications engineer that worked out of the Phoenix area. His boys were 10 and 8. When each turned 8, they got a backpacking trip to the canyon with their Dad. This was the older son's second trip. I asked if I could give him some gas money for giving me the ride, and he wouldn't hear of it. Then I asked if I could buy the ice cream for the boys when they went back to the village. Dad said sure, so I started handing him some money. He said, "give it to the boys," so I handed the 10 year old a $20. They very kindly dropped me off near the car and I thanked him profusely. His answer was perfect, "No problem, someday I'll probably need the same ride."
I started the car and headed back to the Grandview parking lot where Ger was waiting, and we loaded up our gear and started out. I suggested to Ger that we drive to Tusyan first and get some gas, because we were very low on fuel, and it was questionable whether anything would be open early in the morning on our way back to Las Vegas. Down the road a ways, Ger proposed that I leave him in Tusyan and pick him up in the morning on the way out. He really wanted to sleep in a bed. I had made reservations at the campground on the South Rim for the last night. Of course I agreed, so after gassing up, I dropped him off at the hotel he had stayed at before, and we said our goodbyes. I drove back to the park and directly to the laundromat/shower facilities where I had an amazing shower and changed into clean civilian clothes. Then I checked in at the campground and grabbed a bus to the Yavapai Cafeteria where I had my first civilized meal in 6 days. Our food must have been pretty good on the hike, because I wasn't the famished wolf I've often been after a lengthy hike. While I was there, I walked to the village post office and used the pre-addressed and stamped box I'd brought along to mail my camp stove and fuel bottles home.
Then I grabbed another bus to the Bright Angel Lodge, where I transferred to the Hermit bus. I had the idea that I wanted to ride up to Hermit's Rest and look around a bit as my last interaction with the canyon. It was a nice trip. After they dropped me off, I walked to the Maswik and had some supper, then rode the bus back to the campground and worked on my gear until it was too dark to see. It was much noisier in the campground than it had been in the backcountry, and the campers did not seem as inclined as I was to go to sleep at 7:00. I set the alarm on my phone and my watch to 4:00 as I had planned with Ger.
I slept pretty well; possibly too well. I awoke in the dark and looked at my phone and it was 4:30! I was late. I jumped out of the sleeping bag and bivy, threw my stuff into the car, drove out of the campground the wrong way on a one-way road, and did not drop off my permit on the way out as I should have. I called Ger on the way and told him I'd be there shortly. I was about a half hour late, but no harm seemed to have been done.
We had a nice breakfast in Kingman, and made it back to Las Vegas in plenty of time to drop off the rental car. We did get balled up finding the rental car return facility mostly because the instructions given on our rental car contract were incorrect. We drove the wrong direction until we were both convinced we were lost, pulled into a gas station, filled the tank, and turned the on GPS. It took us unerringly to the place, where we dropped off the car and started our walk to the Luxor. The GPS said it was a short distance away, but that was because I had punched in the wrong waypoint. When I corrected the mistake, it told us the hotel was 5 miles away. We decided to take a cab.
I'd always wanted to stay at the Luxor, because I was intrigued by the design and look of the place. The hotel and casino are shaped like a giant pyramid. We got settled in our room and had some lunch and then went our separate ways. I was riding on one of the diagonal elevators when I found myself alone with one of the maintenance men. I struck up a conversation and learned he had worked on the construction of the building. When I expressed interest in how it had been done, he stopped what he was doing and took me on a great tour inside stairwells and storage rooms that showed how the place was designed and constructed. It was one of the coolest things I've ever done in Las Vegas. After he went back to work, I stopped by the front desk and asked to speak with the hotel manager. I had gotten the maintenance man's name, and told the manager I wanted to credit this man for the excellent service he had given me. I don't know if I actually did him some good or not, but it couldn't have hurt.
Next morning we grabbed our flight and soon found ourselves back in Lansing. It was a good trip. The biggest challenge and the most satisfaction came from successfully managing the transitions.